September 10, 2009
On Wednesday morning I and 3 fellow activists chained ourselves together and blocked the entry to a road leading to the regional headquarters of the Massey Coal Company a few miles from the West Virginia state capital in Charleston. This was part of an ongoing campaign to stop the practice of mountaintop removal (MTR), which is resulting in the obliteration of an entire mountain range in order to access a few seams of coal. Massey is the dominant coal interest in the region, and is responsible for almost all of the MTR operations.
MTR is the single most egregious environmental crime of this or any other century. Not only are the mountaintops themselves destroyed, but the down slope streams are filled with rubble and the health of inhabitants of the mountainside hollows is seriously compromised by the inhalation of silica dust and by impurities in the drinking water. Reclamation efforts have by large been ineffective, and studies indicate that restoration of these mountains to their to original states is an act only God could accomplish.
I am acting in solidarity with comrades who, unlike me, are not professed Christians, but believe as do I in the sanctity of the mountains, and indeed of all that God has created.
But in this letter, I can only speak for myself. As a Christian and an environmentalists, Creation care for me is both a spiritual and a secular mandate. The illegal action in which I performed is the culmination of over thirty years of activism within the framework of the laws of the land. I have expended much printers ink on such environmental issues as sustainable life styles, anti pollution policy, recycling, and most important: climate change. I’ve communicated regularly with my elected representatives, participated in local town hall meetings on matters dealing with local environmental policy. As far as my individual life style is concerned, I’ve striven to minimize my carbon footprint. I use a bicycle as my chief means of transport and I don’t own a car, As a near 100% vegan, I try to avoid the industrial food chain, and am conservative in my domestic energy consumption.
But the weak response of the power structure as compared to the urgency of enacting effective climate control policy has forced me to reevaluate my own efforts and escalate the level of my involvement. And perceiving that MTR is the banner issue in the struggle to promote awareness of the climate crisis, I decided to come to West Virginia and join CLIMATE GROUND ZERO’S campaign of non-violent, direct action to bring an end to MTR.
And here in West Virginia on the eve of this action, I look around me, and despite spoilage by the restless energy of humanity, I see the hand of the Creator at work in every tree, in every rock, in the multiplicity of living things with which (He, She, or It) has populated the earth, and particular in the majesty of the mountains. And from the book of Genesis (2:1-2) I read a most relevant passage: “And God saw all that had been made, and behold, it was very good.” One does not have to be a biblical scholar to pick up on the idea that if God thinks that “it” is good, “it” meaning, of course, all of Creation, then His followers—namely us—must do what we can to protect and preserve it.
There is ample precedent in both the history of the nation and the history of Christianity of individuals who suffered incarceration for their beliefs and their efforts to bear witness to their convictions. St. Paul in the course of his ministry to the peoples in and around the Holy Lands, spent a total of seven years in prison. Both Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were in and out of prison throughout their activist careers. Henry David Thoreau was jailed because of his refusal to pay tax to support the war with Mexico. While I do not have the effrontery to even remotely compare myself to these towering figures, it is their spirit and tradition in which I undertook my action.
No substantial gain in our efforts to continually evolve into a more humane and caring society has been made without the willingness of individuals—with non violence as both a creed and a strategy–to step outside the framework of law and tradition in order to correct wrongs when conventional measures had failed. The abolition of slavery, the enactment of civil rights legislation, the right of women to vote, the termination of the Vietnam war could not have come about without the help of the same kind of non violent, direct, and sometime unlawful action that we are using here to stop mountaintop removal.
And as a Christian as well as one who basically respects the laws of the land, I see the growth and maturing of my Faith to be in direct proportion to my readiness to stand for truth, and to embrace causes that will contribute to our moral and spiritual uplift as the dominant species on the planet.